File-sharing is killing the music industry. No it isn't. Yes it is. Isn't. Is... The debate about the effect of post-Napster software goes on like a Metallica album. Increasingly, however, the debate is taking on an edge of aggression. Last month the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed 261 lawsuits against users of systems such as Kazaa and Grokster. 'Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation,' RIAA president Cary Sherman said. Tell that to the outspoken United States senator Orrin Hatch. In a recent debate on copyright infringement, he asked about ways to damage users' computers. When told that nobody was interested in damaging people's property, in a reply worthy of The Terminator, he replied: 'I'm interested.' He said he wanted technology that would warn a user twice and 'then destroy their computer'. Just in case anyone suspected he might harbour some liberal sentiment, he said: 'If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines.' This belligerent attitude is understandable given that a) almost every human who is alive and online has at some time flirted with file-sharing and b) users no longer merely traffic in music. Infected with virtual kleptomania, which somehow, like bombing from a high altitude, does not feel personal in the way that hand-to-hand combat does, users are downloading everything they can. That means videos, pictures, books and software running the gamut from dictation software to Tetris. What next? Soon we will be ripping digital financial advisers, digital scapegoats and digital squeezes from Grokster, Blobster and Suckster. Already, we have entered a world which sounds like the title of a Schwarzenegger film: welcome to the darknet. A definitive paper on the phenomenon, The Darknet And The Future Of Content Distribution, was penned by Microsoft permatemps Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman who define it as 'a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content. The darknet is not a separate physical network but an application and protocol layer riding on existing networks'. The quartet assert that the past few years have seen 'vast increases in the darknet's aggregate bandwidth, reliability, usability, size of shared library and availability of search engines'. They continue to say forget Palladium: the codename for a Microsoft project named after a statue of the goddess Athena (also called Pallas) which guarded the gates of Troy. Palladium is meant to make internet communication 'safer' by essentially pasting a digital certificate on every application, message, byte and machine on the Net, then encrypting the data even inside your computer processor. Palladium has proven as popular as terminal cancer. You would expect the team to conclude that after having their computers stoned in public, all file thieves should be crucified upside-down on primetime television. Instead, they say 'we suspect that peer-to-peer functionality will remain popular and become more widespread'. In other words all efforts to stamp out content theft are probably in the long term futile. This is a bit like US President George W. Bush declaring that he cannot win the war against drugs or terrorism or even the next election. You would think Bill Gates would have shot the messenger, saying, 'Nice report guys. Now stick it in the recycle bin, gather all your belongings and get the **** out of Redmond'. But the word is out. Barring a global takeover by Microsoft, the darknet appears here to stay indefinitely. Whether it will spell the end for the record industry and, for that matter, film and software is doubtful, however. Remember how home audio-taping was originally meant to kill off the record industry? Remember how they forecast that video would spell the death of cinema? The truth is people derive perverse pleasure from prowling shops on the lookout for products which will max out their credit cards. Doomsayers should never underestimate the allure of retail therapy. Confused by computer jargon? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.